ACA NEOGEO THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’99 Review

Everyone always frigging lauds over Super Smash Bros. I’m not gonna pretend it’s not a great game, it really is. The way it handles the arena type battle, the nuanced fighting style, and the hilariously dedicated player and fan base is something to behold. But everyone who even casually has seen or played it always salivates like crazy about how it’s original in Nintendo bringing together all their characters into one game to fight each other. “Pikachu can fight Samus, it’s so awesome!” Yea, no one had ever thought of mashing up different characters from other games to hit each other. Except SNK. Who had literally been doing it for years prior to the first Smash Bros. And I get to look at one of the best.

King of Fighters 99 is hailed as one of the best in the series and, more specifically, the best fighting game on the Dreamcast, which is high praise for one of the greatest systems of all times. SNK, which already had an unparalleled edge with fighting games to begin with, took a bunch of characters from their popular franchises (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting) and mixed in a bunch of other characters (Ikari Warriors, Psycho Soldier) and then even made a fistful of new characters that grew steadily over the years. Here, in 99, the King of Fighters series has already been going on for five years, and this one is marking the end of the century. And of course there’s a plot. Some shadowy dude you don’t know but suspect is evil has sent out invitations to fighters around the world to beat each other up for reasons that are also probably evil or something. It honestly doesn’t matter, and I feel bad for saying that, because someone took the time and effort to craft these story lines. I mean, King of Fighters has like 14 entries and the main storyline has to do with the characters made specially for this game, but it’s a fighting game. You could have the whole backstory written by Tolstoy and if the fighters handle like dead fish then it ends up in the dollar bundle.

The roster is actually pretty damn big. You have a whopping 30 characters to choose from, and you will see tons of familiar faces if you spent any time in arcades prior to picking up this game. King of Fighters 99 will reward those who take the time to get to know their fighters, because you can’t just pick one: you gotta make a team. Each fight is actually a four on four team battle, with three people entering the arena and the fourth being a “striker.” The striker’s job is to jump in and do a super attack when the right buttons are pressed, and you can only do the striker attack as long as you still have a “bomb” credit at the bottom of the screen. It may reset between matches, but I often forgot to activate my striker, which is probably why I died so much. You can’t rotate your striker between full matches, so you need to really decide who’s gonna be the best person to only kind of hit on occasion and not just either a.) leave your side entirely or b.) do most of the regular fighting.

And you will fight. King of Fighters 99 is all about people who were comfortable with mixing straight hits with special attacks and brutal combos that you had little hope of breaking out of. This is at the pinnacle of 2D, 16 bit style fighters, and the controls are as smooth and fluid as you could hope for with a rom port to the Switch. KoF99 doesn’t let you choose stances prior to battle but, rather, you can change into either a Counter Mode (high offense but higher damage taken) or Armor Mode (better defense and HP but no super attacks). The Super Special moves are definitely a game changer if you can execute them at the right time, and giving up that option to turn on the Armor Mode doesn’t always seem worth it, but that’s the great part. You don’t have to decide once and be done forever. Each round gives you a new opportunity to power up your gauge and then activate your stance through the button combination. Oh, I suppose that’s another big thing. Button mashers will simply suck and die at this game. I argue a ton of SNES fighting games gave equal credence to people who had no idea what they were doing but still could mash X quickly. KoF99 is all about the skill, and you can get absolutely brutalized, even by the computer, if you’re not on your game.

This is one of the few fighting games where I highly recommend doing the single player storyline as well. The final boss of KoF99 is ingenious, as he uses his first form to essentially learn your fighting style and then beats your ass using what appears to be legit strategy in his second form. I mean, in reality, it’s probably something like a complex algorithm that merely records button patterns and then replays that data in order to predict the best moveset, but it gives a great impression and really makes the player feel like they’re duking it out with a seasoned second player instead of a broken AI that just keeps doing the most powerful attacks over and over and forgets to block.

The NEO GEO Switch scoreboards are already fully lit at this point, but don’t let that discourage you from trying to make your online mark with King of Fighters 99. I’ve noticed that the numbers change constantly, and the players are always sliding on rank, so you can still become the true king if you dedicate your time to this one game and not the dozens of others that are currently available. I’m wondering if the caravan high scores will become less popular as more original games come to the Switch, and then these tables will act as placards for the really committed historic players who want to see their name up there just like they saw on the cabinets once.

The only negative thing I can say is that this is the original King of Fighters 99, not the Evolution upgrade that came out on the Dreamcast. I do enjoy and appreciate the graphics of the original, I really do, but Evolution looks GORGEOUS and it’s one of the things that pushed it into the hall of fame for the Sega console. SNK weighed graphics against performance for the NEO GEO version and they made the right choice. Sega had some more room to move around, so they got the prettier looking game, and the rest is history. Not sad history, but history nonetheless.

There’s not much else to say about King of Fighters 99. This isn’t even the only entry of the KoF series available on the Switch (as I’ll be reviewing the 2000 edition shortly), but it’s still one of the best. It’s dated, sure, but it still has a lot of heart and strategy within. This is a great two player fighter, and I recommend it to anyone who’s a bit tired of Street Fighter or Tekken and wants to see how it was done back in 1999. Now, I gotta go ice my thumbs: my hands are TIRED.

Bonus Stage Rating - Excellent 9/10

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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